Fringeworthy

Hip Shot: Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness

macbeth-instrumentWarehouse – Fort Fringe

Remaining Performances:

Sunday, July 13 at 7:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 19 at 4:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 23 at 9:45 p.m.
Saturday, July 26 at 6 p.m.

They say: Malevolence hides in the darkness, its truths more dangerous than lies. Pinholes and shadows blind rather than reveal, while a witch hides in plain sight. Shakespeare's cursed tragedy shines in the Rudes' capable hands.

Joshua's Take: There are at least two damn fine ideas at work in Macbeth: The Instruments of Darkness, a shaky effort from the Laurel, Maryland-based Shakespeare company Rude Mechanicals. One, to play Lady Macbeth (Jaki Demarest) as literally blind, which opens up all sorts of possibilities for re-envisioning some of theater’s most famous scenes.  And two, to have the Witches (Lauren Beward, Diane Samuelson, and Rebecca Speas) also inhabit a number of minor characters, usually hired killers, which could potentially reshape the play’s grim fatalism.  Alas, these and other opportunities are lost in this production.

The Instruments of Darkness is all over the place.  It wants to create a world of “darkness, pierced by pinpricks of light,” to quote director Joshua Engel’s program note.  What we get instead is a haunted house: ominous music, erratic lighting, occasional fog.  Audiences are immersed not so much in darkness as in an unrelenting series of distractions.  Characters often wield flashlights, but this only makes sense part of the time.  The spooky music that accompanies much of the action is annoying rather than atmospheric; at other points, we hear vaguely Elizabethan folk melodies, though the cast is mostly dressed for the Somme Offensive.  Lines are delivered in such a wide variety of registers, accents, and volumes that we begin to imagine every actor is at work on a distinct production, each with its own setting and its own performance space.

That is, when those lines aren’t muddled or swallowed or muffled by another actor’s shoulder.  Speaking directly into the torsos of fellow performers, rather than out to the audience, is another consistent problem with The Instruments of Darkness.  That’s not to say that there are no worthy performances here; the witches acquit themselves admirably, Demarest’s Lady Macbeth injects some real anguish into the old “damn spot” monologue, and Melissa Shick absolutely steals the show as a randy, burlesque-inspired Porter.  But even she, in a juicy but hardly essential role, seems to have wandered in from a wholly different version of Macbeth.

And speaking of Macbeth, I never believed for a moment that The Instruments of Darkness’s renegade king (Alad Duda) could kill so much as a mouse.  He seems at all times to be the play’s least ambitious character.  Indeed, Engel and company seem to have little interest in their central villain.  The murdering bastard is constantly upstaged by witches, do-gooders, and his own scheming wife.  The full play seems here to have been cut deliberately to push Macbeth back into the shadows, until he only emerges as a hapless, mild-mannered, yet inexplicably murderous victim of circumstance.  He and sidekick-turned-nemesis Banquo (Joe Kubinski) are played with all the pathos of city comptrollers accused of fixing parking tickets.

For all this production’s promising interest in light and dark, in the seen and the unseen, it simply has no vision.

See it if: You can’t ever get enough Shakespeare.

Skip it if: You’ve already seen your share of Macbeth.

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